Super Mario Maker 2 Wants To Make You A Better Level Designer

Super Mario Maker 2 Wants To Make You A Better Level Designer

Super Mario Maker 2 teaches you to respect your players, not frustrate them.

I've never been one for games that force you to be creative. Minecraft, and the thousands of "build shit" games it's birthed, I've always found more tedious than freeing. I think most of that comes with the age where I approached them; from teen to adulthood, my sense of imagination has dashed with age. Super Mario Maker, for me at least, has been the big exception though.

The Wii U darling was my favorite game of 2015, in fact. (Excuse me, I came to The Witcher 3 about a year late.) I got into not just scavenging online forums and threads to discover meticulously designed levels, but I fell in love with actually making levels too. I built short ones that required my favorite spin jump of Super Mario World to get across a bed of spiky-shelled foes. I made high concept ones, like emulating sequences of the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, made possible thanks to Mario skins like Mario Kart and Palutena. I got really into Super Mario Maker, more than any other build-a-thon before it.

Nina and Yamamura are a good team. | Mike Williams/USG, Nintendo

Super Mario Maker 2 has already tickled the same itch as the first game. I made my first level, called "Mario & The UFO Catcher Factory," over the weekend. But there's something else about it that I'm loving even more: how it holds your hand.

The problem that I usually have with a lot of games that want you to build things is that they aren't great at two things: inspiring you and teaching you. This year's Dreams, from Media Molecule, has maybe the best example of the latter. Its tutorials are all narrated, have many steps, and best of all, ask you to follow along in action. You can easily pause, rewind, or skip forward if you feel confident. While I still find Dreams overwhelming to this day, at least its tutorials gave me the confidence I needed to at least experiment with its many creation tools.

Super Mario Maker 2 is great at both tasks. Thanks to its Story Mode and tutorials in Yamamura's Dojo, Super Mario Maker 2 is less intimidating from the get-go than its Wii U predecessor. As Mike wrote in his write-up, the Story Mode is really just clever framework to teach you about all the many features in the level builder. But I've found it's been the best for another reason: giving me inspiration.

I got the idea for my crane factory level through playing an early Story Mode level, where its swinging claws reminded me immediately of UFO catcher games you find in Japanese arcades. So I thought, why not make a level about that? The same inspiration hit me during a harder level offered to me by the strange eraser dog character in Story Mode, wherein you use a Dry Bones' shell as a makeshift raft to sail across a poisonous flood. My next level, I've decided, will be all about sailing on this strange raft.

The pigeon-narrated Dojo, by contrast, isn't so much built to give you inspiration, but to teach you how best to use all of Super Mario Maker 2's tools. And better yet, it gives handy advice for not just making Mario levels, but for good overall level design too. "Cheap shots and surprise attacks are almost never fun," one Dojo lesson bids, showing an example of a Thwomp crashing down onto Mario despite being offscreen in a lesson about learning to respect your players. "Cheap shots don't make players feel good."

Another suggests sharing your levels with friends and family so they can spot the blindspots you maybe miss in making levels, teaching players that criticism is almost always a helpful asset. Each of the 45 lessons offer not just Mario-related advice, but educates you on the aspects of game design that you might otherwise not think about too. I sifted through the lessons expecting to just learn about the newer tools of Super Mario Maker 2, but found myself tapping on lessons like "Seriously, Treat the Player Fairly" and "Forgiving Player Mistakes."

It's helpful, not just to discourage cheap-feeling difficulty in players' Mario levels, but to encourage players to think beyond the likes of those boring auto-run levels or the unfair and not satisfying side of Kaizo levels. In the heyday of Super Mario Maker on the Wii U, those types of levels were unfortunately the most popular, but already in Super Mario Maker 2 I'm seeing less of those, and more clever designed levels in their place. Some makers are even creating intricate puzzle levels, which is cool to see in the context of a Mario game at all.

While I loved building levels in the original Mario Maker because of how naturally ideas came to me, Super Mario Maker 2 is offering the tools and guidance to inspire many others, without the self-taught patience I had, to take on the challenge. And dare I say it, make thoughtful level designers of us all. I know it's already affecting how I make levels, and I can't wait to see what other more talented budding designers come up with next.

The Viera have arrived. | Square Enix

Major Game Releases: July 1 to July 5

Here are the major releases for the week of June 17 to June 21. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers [July 2, PS4, PC]: If you preordered Shadowbringers, then you're probably already in, but Tuesday is the official launch for Final Fantasy 14's next expansion. It's bringing in huge changes to jobs, combat, and quests, as well as the long-anticipated Viera and Hrothgar races. Bunny women and cat men, what more could you want?
  • Stranger Things 3: The Game [July 4, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC]: Season three of Stranger Things drops later this week on Netflix, and so does its video game adaptation. It's a co-op action-adventure game with 12 playable characters; some of whom remain a mystery. We played a demo of it awhile back, but don't worry, it didn't contain any spoilers for the new season.
  • What Remains of Edith Finch [July 4, Switch]: What Remains of Edith Finch, one of our favorite games of 2017, is coming to Switch later this week. It's a must-play, in this humble writer's opinion. (I should know, I reviewed it way back when!)
  • Sea of Solitude [July 5, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: Sea of Solitude is the latest in EA's Originals program, developed by the small studio Jo-Mei Games and to be published by EA. It's an adventure game where you play as Kay, a girl trying to save her loved ones from the loneliness that she herself is afflicted with. Of course, that loneliness manifests in scary monsters. You can expect a review from us of it later this week.
Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer are lookin' good in Netflix's The Witcher series. | Netflix

This Week's News and Notes

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's official altgame enthusiast.

Read this next

These Super Mario Maker 2 Link Power-Up Levels Show How Ingenious a Zelda Maker Could Be

The bar for Master Sword mastery is really, really high.

Nintendo Needs to Actually Support Its Games For Longer Than a Year

Smash benefits from healthy ongoing support, but where is the love for the rest of Nintendo's games?

Check Out This Super Mario Maker 2 Course From the Yooka-Laylee Developers

Playtonic is just the first indie dev Nintendo will shout out via Mario Maker 2.

Latest Super Mario Maker 2 Patch Finally Lets You Play Online With Friends

On top of this multiplayer and quality of life-focused update, Nintendo says new course parts are on the way.

More Opinions

Xbox Series X Asks the Question, "What's in a Name?"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Microsoft not only unveiled its next console this week, but now Sony will start making games for other consoles too?

Once the King of PC Gaming, MechWarrior is Now the Big Stompy Ghost of a Bygone Era

A legacy series returns, and there’s little else like it in gaming today.

Starting Screen | Tyrants, Dollhouses, and Rude Geese: Looking Back on 2019's Great Gaming Moments

There were some great moments in video games this year. Let's look back on some of our favorites.

More on Switch

Xbox Series X Asks the Question, "What's in a Name?"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Microsoft not only unveiled its next console this week, but now Sony will start making games for other consoles too?

Pokemon is Getting a New Series of Animated Shorts Set in the Galar Region

The hopes and dreams of Galar region's trainers are coming soon to a small screen near you.

The 15 Best Games You Probably Missed in 2019

From flight sim to train sim, these are the best games that probably slipped past your radar this year.

Game Awards 2019 Recap: The Night’s Big Trailers and Reveals

Sizzle reels for everything from upcoming DLC to the next Xbox.

Bravely Default Is Getting Another Sequel, But This Time For Switch

A new world and new characters will star in Bravely Default 2.

More Platformer Games

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Gets Delayed by One Month

You'll have to wait a teensy bit longer this spring to play the new Ori.

The Absurdly Difficult La-Mulana Games are Finally Coming to Current-Gen Console in Early 2020

Hope you're ready to get lost in some ruins, and then smushed.